In 1920, Williem C. Van Wilgen came to the United States from Boskoop, Holland to begin working as a nursery salesman. He settled in a house on Old Pine Orchard Road in Branford and began propagating on the surrounding property. Eventually, Williem grew nursery stock in the fields that are now Tabor Road, in Branford. In 1936, Williem sold his property to purchase 220 acres on Valley Road in North Branford. Today, Van Wilgen’s occupies 56 acres of that original purchase.
Williem’s brother Aart created a variety of Rhododendron, ‘Wilgen’s Ruby’, which Williem had imported and marketed here in the United States. ‘Wilgen’s Ruby’ is known for its amazing flowers; ruby red blooms with dark spots that become more pronounced deeper into the throat. Today, the ‘Wilgen’s Ruby’ is still grown and available at the garden center.
Williem cultivated fields for wholesale nursery stock, and soon Van Wilgen’s was delivering plants as far as New Jersey. They loaded plants in a 1939 Diamond T truck and set off down for the long ride down US-1. Today we have a restored version of this truck.
In 1976, Williem’s grandson William Van Wilgen–or Bill for short–took over the business. His primary focus was to enhance the landscaping services of the business and in 1977 he opened Van Wilgen’s Garden Center. The garden center was a small and mostly a tool to support his landscaping service.
When Bill took over, there were acres of overgrown material that needed to be cleared from the fields. Bill can still remember tending to the nursery plants early in the morning, installing those plants during the day, and working late on the farm at night to continue clearing out the overgrown fields. In 1988, Bill decided to transition his landscaping business into a larger retail establishment and began focusing on the garden center.
In 1992, the Van Wilgen Grown brand was born. The initial product line included a variety of annuals and perennials. At that time there were only a few small hoop houses and a small growing area on the property. Bill teamed up with a retail consultant and started expanding the garden center.
Over the years it has been our goal to constantly improve our facility and shopping experience. Bill has worked very hard over the years to turn Van Wilgen’s into the Garden Center that–at one time–only existed in his dreams. There have been many improvements to the facility throughout the years including moving our growing area across the river and expanding on it, a complete teardown and rebuild of our retail store, removing the large garage in the middle of the parking lot, building a warehouse, and restoring the historical barn in the parking lot.
In 2008, Bill’s son, Ryan continued the family tradition by becoming a full-time employee of the family business. He graduated from UMASS in 2007 and moved to Oregon to work for another family-owned garden center to gain experience before jumping right into the family business. During his time away from the company Bill was diagnosed with leukemia.
Two generations, One priority: helping families everywhere create memories while enjoying their gardens
It was a rocky road for a while trying to overcome Bill’s battle with cancer, an unstable economy, and in the middle of a major store renovation. Bill’s team of managers took the reins while Ryan finished out his commitment in Oregon and Bill focused on his battle. The whole team stepped up to the plate and steered the business through those tough times.
In 2010 the Guilford and Old Saybrook Garden Marts were opened. Van Wilgen Grown plants were our focus, we wanted to share our line of plants with more gardeners. It was a very exciting day; we loaded up our new box truck and shipped a load of plants to another store! That was a first for us, we had transported trailer load after trailer load of plants from growing to our greenhouse. The next year we opened our Milford Garden Mart and most recently, Clinton in 2021.
Today Van Wilgen’s continues to have you in mind. We are passionate about making your experience the best it can be. We consider ourselves a big family and I’m sure you recognize many of our faces, there is a long list of people who have been a part of the team for many years, and we hope to keep growing.